Big Data Analytics / IIoT

The Big Data World Series

Thomas Wilk explores how the IIoT helped the Astros become a contender again.

By Thomas Wilk, editor in chief

When it comes to Big Data and the IIoT, one of the things I like to keep an eye on is the ways in which professional sports succeed with these technologies. Two years ago I noted a parallel between the Houston Astros and the industrial sector, where both were starting to fight the same types of cybersecurity battles.

Well, as of this writing, the Astros are back in the news, playing in the World Series and tied with the Dodgers at one game each. By the time you read this, you’ll know how things turned out.

Guess what? Thanks to the June 30, 2014, cover of Sports Illustrated, so do I. Houston, get ready to celebrate!

In that 2014 issue, the SI staff declared three years ahead of schedule that the Houston Astros would be this year’s World Series champion. This, despite the Astros having lost more than 100 games in each of the 2011, 2012, and 2013 seasons. Despite the Astros posting only one winning season since 2006. Heck, SI even put Astros outfielder George Springer on the cover of that issue, and he just belted a two-run home run in the top of the 11th inning to win Game 2.

“It’s hard to see the positive, when you’re constantly down, you’re constantly getting beat,” said Springer in a recent USA Today story. “At the time, it was like, ‘Yeah, that’d be great if that happened.’ You never can predict anything like that. But whoever did that did a pretty good job of it.”

Why were the SI staff so confident, even if the Astros weren’t? The story describes the efforts made by the Astros to integrate softer, more-qualitative information (family health history, player personality) with more standard performance analytics – a new approach that pushed beyond the Big Data approach to player evaluations pioneered by Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s.

In a retrospective article by Ben Reiter, the author of the 2014 SI story, Reiter remembers that the Astros’ goal was not to make zero mistakes. Rather, the Astros set out “to make marginally more correct decisions than their competitors, in the long haul. ... They told everyone exactly what they were going to do—and then they did it.”

MLB isn’t limiting data-driven approaches to game play alone. Behind the scenes, says Bill Schmarzo, CTO of Big Data for Dell Global Services, “all sports teams are looking to couple detailed customer transactional and engagement data with external factors—weather, traffic, opponent, seasonal standings, day of the week, time of the game—to optimize each of those types of decisions” and improve the game-day experience.

It’s yet another look into the future of the way that Big Data keeps changing the face of industrial operations: The promise of these tools is moving fast beyond asset performance and into the area of organizational optimization. So, when you celebrate your first IIoT project win, be sure you’ve got the walls lined with plastic, and try to keep the champagne out of your eyes.